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Posts from the ‘Folklore’ Category

Native North American Studies at the AFS Annual Meetings, 1990-1994

I have been away from the project for some time, but I have resumed my journey through the programs of the annual meetings of the American Folklore Society. As discussed in my previous posts, my goal is to gain perspective on the relative presence and absences of work on Native North American studies topics within the AFS and by extension, among folklorists in the United States. The data for the first half of the 1990s is shown below. Participation in the meetings for this period is quite similar to that seen for the full decade of the 1980s.

Percentages (of Native North American-related) presentations for the 1980s as a whole was 2%, with a variation ranging between 1% and 4%. For the first half of the 1990s, the five year percentage was 3% with yearly ranges of 2%-5%. This small increase is primarily attributable to three factors that I identify in closing. The 1991 annual meeting in St. John’s was a joint meeting with the Folklore Studies Association of Canada and it seems clear to me that additional presentations by members of that peer-organization made the difference for that year. I do not do not see any specific factors accounting for the 3% in 1992, when AFS met in Jacksonville. As measured by presentation of papers and films, that meeting was large for a non-joint, non-bicentennial meeting. In contrast to 1992, the program for the 1993 meeting in Eugene shows that a very concerted effort was made by organizers to spotlight Native North America-related papers and topics. Seven panels (some were round-tables and thus not reflected in these counts) specifically related to Native North American issues were organized and several Native American individuals appeared on the program, particularly as guests for free-form discussion events. Finally, the 1994 meetings in Milwaukee were held jointly with the Society for Ethnomusicology and it is clear that presentations by ethnomusicologists on Native North American studies topics raised the total for this meeting in a way that was key. (The 1994 meeting was the first that I attended as a member of the AFS and I presented at that this meeting contributing to the N=18 shown below. It was at that meeting that I met my friend and collaborator Victoria Levine, although I knew her writings before then. With so many happy associations with the 1994 meeting, I am happy to pause here with it.)

I will finish the 1990s as soon as I am able.

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
199036262%
199130183%
1992417133%
1993383205%
1994447184%
Totals1910653%
Presentations on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society in the First Half of the 1990s (1990-1994)

Native North American Studies at the AFS Annual Meetings of the 1980s

Less than 100 papers were presented at the American Folklore Society meetings in the decade of 1900-1909. More than 3500 papers and films were presented during the decade of 1980-1989. This huge number does not include forums and other discussion events where named participants were not identified with a titled presentation. That fact means that the programs for the meetings of the 1980s are still larger than the papers + films count suggests. And it is clear that attendance, as in earlier periods, was greater that the count of members and non-members on the program. This pattern will continue in the decades to come in this survey–the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010. What this means practically is that it is now taking me a long time to slog through each program for each year of each decade remaining to survey.

This post is the next in a series examining the presence and absence of Native North American/First Nations topics and scholars within the work of the American Folklore Society across its history since 1888. Anyone finding this post who might want more context can work their way backwards through the series. A partial index to the relevant posts is available here: https://jasonbairdjackson.com/2020/11/02/organizing-the-material-so-far-native-north-american-studies-and-afs/. One post fits in between that overview and this post, a combined treatment of the Journal of American Folklore (JAF) and the annual meeting for the decade of 1900-1909. Remaining to be done are the annual meetings for the most recent period in AFS history.

The amazing growth in involvement evoked in the prelude here should encourage anyone interested in the dynamic expansion of the field of folklore studies. Having just finished reading the titles for 3563 conference papers I can testify that the expansion of the society ran alongside an expansion of topical interests being pursued by folklorists. Exploring that in depth is off topic, but the bigger disciplinary picture is there to be seen. In discussing the 1970s I described that decade as the one where AFS got big. The big 1970s were basically doubled in the bigger 1980s. The number of papers and films nearly doubled between the 1980s. With an increase in forums, I think that it is safe to estimate that the 1980s simply doubled the 1970s in meeting participation. In discussing the 1970s, I highlighted the special impact of the bicentennial (1776-1976) of the present-day United States as a key historical factor for that decade. Here in the 1980s, the big story was the centennial of the AFS celebrated in 1988 and 1989. The table shows how those were big years.

All of that is good for an AFS and folklore studies partisan. It is somewhat beside the point for my topic. For the decade, a small overall increase (N=8) in papers related to Native North American/First Nations can be seen when comparing the 1980s (N=85) to the 1970s (N=77). But the great increase in overall participation means that as a percentage of program participation, Native North American studies work falls from 4% to 2% for the decade. Study of the table shows that the variation across the decade is very small, with the percentage ranging from 1% to 4%.

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
198030262%
1981253104%
1982298124%
198332382%
198429462%
198534993%
198638382%
1987379113%
198843751%
1989460102%
Totals3478852%
Presentations on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society During the 1980s.

The 1987 meetings were held in Albuquerque, thus close to a number of federally-recognized Native American nations. That fact did not register in a broad way on the program, but there were a noticeable number of presenters who are not regular AFS attendees and there were a several papers dealing specifically with issues relevant to the Pueblo of Zuni. Among the presenters was Calbert Seciwa (Zuni), a Zuni scholar and the Director of the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals at Northern Arizona University at the time of his passing in 2009. He had previously served as he served as the Director of the American Indian Institute at Arizona State University from 1989 to 2007. (I am unaware of any other members of Federally recognized Native North American nations or First Nations participating in the annual meetings of the 1980s, but it would be easy for me not to catch some, particularly if they presented on topics outside Native North American/First Nations studies. I welcome information on this point.)

One final note. The overall numbers of presentations on Native North American/First Nations topics would be lower if papers in history of the field were excluded from the totals. The AFS centennial prompted historical research on the field and that led to scholars who are not themselves scholars of Native North American studies taking time to consider figures in the field whose focus was in this field. The paper most relevant to the project in these posts is a paper given by Claire Farrer at the centennial meetings in 1888. Her topic was “Reflections of Ourselves: Native American Folklore Scholarship 1888-1988.”

Native North American Studies in the Work of the American Folklore Society during the First Decade of the 20th Century (1900-1909)

This is another post in a series devoted to better understanding the place of Native North American and First Nations studies within the field of folklore studies as represented in the present-day United States by the work of the American Folklore Society (AFS). In a post published here, I itemize the posts in the series so far.

From at least one perspective, 1900-1909 was a kind of high water mark for Native North American work within the American Folklore Society. In the early 20th century, the AFS had a lot of members (in my view), although its leaders constantly stressed the smallness of the membership and stressed the need to grow both members and the number of state and local chapters within which, in those days, most members engaged with the field. There was a relatively small elite of members, both literary and anthropological in orientation, that attended annual meetings and that published substantive articles in the pages of the Journal of American Folklore (JAF). During the 1900-1909 decade, two such elite members were Native North American men–William Jones (Sauk) and Frances La Flesche (Omaha).

Jones was the first Native American to earn a PhD in Anthropology and one of the first to earn this degree at all in the United States. He undertook extensive research among his own people–the Sauk and closely related Meskwaki (Fox)–but also other groups speaking related Central Algonquian languages. He published widely and during his lifetime he published two papers in the JAF. Two additional JAF papers were published posthumously. His first JAF paper is “Episodes in the Culture-Hero Muth of the Sauks and Foxes in JAF #55 (1901). His second paper, “The Algonkin Manitou” appeared in JAF #70 in 1905. He also published reviews in JAF during his lifetime. Sadly, in an episode that has been widely considered in the history of anthropology, he was killed in 1908 while conducting research as a Field Museum curator among the Ilongot people in the Philippines. An unsigned obituary, likely written by his mentor Franz Boas, appears at the end of the decade in JAF #84 (1909). Despite the racism of his day, I do not have any difficulty imagining William Jones having been the President of the American Folklore Society. Many of Boas’ former students, both male and female, came in time to fill this role. Among them Jones was particularly engaged in folk narrative research and he was widely admired. His death remains a vividly felt loss. When I position Jones as an leading member of the AFS in this decade, I include the fact that he was one of a very small number of members to actually present a paper at an annual meeting during this period. He delivered a paper titled “Customs and Rites Concerning the Dean Among the Sauks and Foxes” at the 1901 (13th) annual meeting in Chicago, one of sixteen given at that meeting.

Similarly prominent in this time as a working anthropologist and folklorist, although trained formally in law, is Francis La Flesche. Like Jones, he also undertook ethnographic field work among his own people (the Omaha) and among closely related peoples (the Osage and other peoples speaking Degihan langauges). The JAF volume for 1905 featured Jones’ Manitou paper and, in the next issue, La Flesche’s “Who was the Medicine Man?”. With his research collaborator (and soon-to-be AFS’s first female president) Alice C. Fletcher, he also presented a paper on “Military Insignia of the Omaha” at the 14th Annual Meeting of the AFS, held jointly with the American Anthropological Association and the anthropological section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, DC at the end of 2002 and the beginning days of 2003. While La Flesche did not become an AFS officer, he clearly could have as reflected in his Presidency of the Anthropological Society of Washington (1922-1923) and his 1922 election to National Academy of Sciences (a high honor then, as now).

A reoccurring theme in these posts, I will address the tiny group of prominent Native North American folklorists in a separate concluding post. Here, I just wish to underline that the 1900s (111 to 120 years ago was the apparent peak moment for such involvement in the society, as represented by the participation in both meetings and the JAF of both Jones and La Flesche during the decade. Ella Deloria (Dakota) would publish in JAF in the 1920s and Gladys Tantaquidgeon (Mohegan) would present at the meetings once in that decade, but as measured by total involvement including three full JAF articles published by La Flesche during his career and four full JAF articles published during (and after) his lifetime by Jones, they, and this decade, really stand out. I hope it is clear that I admire them and that I am frustrating that the best moment in terms of Native American scholars being near the center of the field would be in the first decade of the 20th century. As in previous posts when I touched on the question of Native American participation in the society, I welcome information on Native scholars involved in AFS that I many not be recognizing.

During the 1900s decade, meetings remained small and centered mostly in the Northeastern US. It was common, not just for the AFS, but for scholarly societies in general, to systematically meet in what one annual report refers to as a convocation, in which a significant number of scholarly societies are jointly hosted by a university. The AFS met in such situations multiple times in the 1900s decade. Such meetings often included an overarching welcome by the host university president, break-out meetings for the participating societies, and keynote lectures and receptions held again jointly.

It is important to recall that the AFS was founded fourteen years prior to the founding of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). Prior to the founding of the AAA, the Anthropological Society of Washington (ASW) (of which La Flesche would eventually be President) and the anthropology section within the AAAS were the key anthropology organizations. AFS met regularly with the ASW and with AAAS throughout its early history and after the AAA formed, it was added to this mix of regular meeting partners. Once the AAA was in the mix, it became common for there to be an AFS focused day within a multi-day meeting. This would have probably been adaptive for the non-anthropologists who may have wished to take in the AFS portion of the meeting but perhaps not the AAA (etc.) parts. I am guessing about this. With respect to the balance between scholars of Native North American and non-Native North American topics–a distinction that in this decade does map rather closely onto the anthropology/literature distinction–Native American-focused presentations at the annual meetings across the decade were somewhat dominant, but as shown in the first table, there was much variability. The most imbalanced meeting, in 1907, was one of those held jointly with the AAA and AAAS. It was held in Chicago (an emerging hub for anthropology due to the Field Museum), a new development that may have made the meeting more difficult for the New England-centric literary folklorists and appealing to the anthropologists who were in this time increasingly fanning out across the country. The meeting in 1904, where only a small number of papers were given and where the Native studies percentage is at its lowest for the decade, was in Philadelphia during one of the joint meetings that included the still new AAA and AAAS. It is likely that AFS members appeared on the AAA’s program in this context, impacting the figures. How AFS papers are reported in the annual report varies year to year in response to different meeting configurations and other factors.

The 1900s decade is when Boas’ students (both formal and informal) begin to show up in growing numbers and assume leadership roles. Jones has been mentioned here and in previous posts. In the previous decade A. L. Kroeber was present as a student, now he is present as an established figure. He is not only a presenter at meetings and a regular JAF author, but he and colleagues begin the California chapter in this time and it becomes a force within the field. In this period, there is often a dedicated section of the journal presenting papers and notes under this California branch’s auspices. Kroeber followed Alice Fletcher as AFS President, serving in 1906. John Swanton, active starting in this decade, would serve as President in 1909. Other Boas students such as Frank Speck, Robert Lowie, and Edward Sapir–all scholars of Native American topics–entered into the life of the AFS and rose to prominence in it, eventually service as Presidents.

As noted previously, the membership size and the number of presentations at AFS annual meetings are very different things. Most members articulated with the society as journal readers and as members of local branches, not via the annual meetings. There continued in this period to be elite AFS participants from both the anthropology community (ex: Alice Fletcher, James Mooney, Franz Boas and others) and the literary and historical side (inclusive of such topics as ballad studies, Black vernacular culture, children’s folklore, etc) (ex: George Lyman Kittredge, Alcée Fortier, Phillips Barry and others) as reflected in meeting attendance and service as an officer of the society. The politics of the AFS seems to have mainly taken place at the annual meetings, thus centering leadership and decision making among a small group (nearly all white, mostly men, weighted towards the northeast, but less exclusively so) able to both attend annual meetings and engage in the work on a national basis. The Annual Meeting table follows.

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
190041071%
190161063%
190231077%
19036440%
19043125%
19054233%
19066545%
19071686%
19086545%
19092467%
Totals415758%
Presentations on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society During the 1900s.

As in earlier decades, the JAF picture is distorted by my initial choice (probably a mistaken one) to code notes and articles rather than limiting attention just to full articles. In this period, the JAF often (but not always) published notes that ranged from substantive contributions with a byline to very short items (as short as a couple sentences). As I have noted elsewhere, my inclusion of notes serves to supress the percentages for Native North American topical works, because the smaller notes are weighted towards items related to Non-Native North American folklore topics. I am just guessing, but it seems likely that in the decade of the 1900s, the ratio for sunstantive Native and Non-Native North American content in the journal might have been about 50/50 rather than the decade-based 39% presented in the table below.

YearPublished Papers and Notes on Non-Native American TopicsPublished Papers and Notes on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
1900211745%
1901321836%
1902451525%
1903431830%
1904181749%
1905171648%
1906301635%
1907241843%
1908161853%
1909161853%
Totals26217139%
JAF Publications on Non-Native North American and Native North American-Related Topics During 1900s.

Early volumes of the JAF are available without a paywall from JSTOR, thus I end by suggesting that anyone who has made it this far read the brief obituary published for William Jones in #84. Find it here. It is unsigned but his mentor Franz Boas was the editor of JAF at the time and knew him well, suggesting to me that he is the likely author of the obituary.

Native North American Studies in the Journal of American Folklore During the 2000s and 2010s

Carrying forward from the previous post on the Journal of American Folklore (JAF) during the 1980s and 1990s, my focus here is the presence and absence of Native North American and First Nations scholarship (and scholars) in JAF during the 2000s and 2010s. Later posts will circle bask to look at the annual meetings of the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.

I have no special interest stories for the 2000s. The first table here presents the data for this decade. Keep in mind what I have noted previously for the post-1940s world. A significant proportion of the (now) small number of the Native North American studies items published in JAF during this period are smaller notes and not full articles. Also in this broader period, I am counting obituaries, including them in the Native North American count when the scholar remembered was wholly or mainly a scholar of Native North American matters. These factors inflate a count that here, in the 2010s, reaches a new low-water mark of 4% of JAF content. No JAF authors for the 2000s are known to me to have been enrolled citizens of federally recognized Native North American/First Nations nations. I welcome corrections if this understanding is in error.

YearPublished Papers and Notes on Non-Native American TopicsPublished Papers and Notes on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
20002214%
20012100%
20022214%
20032115%
20042813%
20052514%
20062029%
20071218%
20081915%
20091800%
Totals20894%
JAF Publications on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics During the 2000s.

The 2010s are presented in the next table, below. Here we see, as began to happen occasionally in the 1960s, runs of multiple years of JAF without publication of Native North American studies works occur. The most notable thing to happen in this decades, related to my topic, is the publication in 2013 of a special issue of JAF focused on Native North American studies. That is how the out of the ordinary count of four items and 22% came about. I happen to be one of those four authors. In the year in which the 500th number of the journal would be published, the editors recruited authors for a series of theme issues. In recognition of the historical importance of Native North American studies within the society and in the journal and, I think, recognizing the decline that my posts are tracking, they cultivated this special issue. I was honored to participate in it. It created a retro moment and provided a historical reminder of how things once were, but you will note that the three following years saw no cognate content, thus the four items in 2013 could have been spread out between 2013 and 2016 to produce a very typical looking table for the recent period. From 4% in the 2000s we move to 3% in the 2010s, despite the publication of a dedicated issue on Native North American folklore studies.

To the best of my current knowledge, no JAF author publishing in the 2010s is a member of a federally recognized Native North American nation. I welcome correction on this point.

YearPublished Papers and Notes on Non-Native American TopicsPublished Papers and Notes on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
20101800%
20112214%
20122100%
201314422%
20142000%
20152300%
20162200%
20172214%
20183400%
20192800%
Totals22463%
JAF Publications on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics During the 2010s.

Just to round out the available data, here is a final table for the first year of the 2020s, our own dreaded present moment. In the 2010s, it was more common for a year to feature no Native North American studies content than to include such content. This default setting zero pattern has occurred again this year, as shown below.

YearsPublished Papers and Notes on Non-Native American TopicsPublished Papers and Notes on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
20202400%
Totals2400%
JAF Publications on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics During 2020.

And Now for the 1970s: Native North American and First Nations Folklore Studies After the Field Gets Big

Here is the next in my series on the presence and absence of Native North American and First Nations studies in the work of the American Folklore Society, as a representative of the field of folklore studies in the present-day United States.

In the first table here, I present (using the same format as in earlier posts) data from the annual meetings of the AFS during the 1970s. (At the end of this post, I note some methodological issues to keep in mind when considering my gathering of meeting and Journal of American Folklore (JAF) data.) I want to call attention to two meetings specifically. From a Native American studies perspective, 1974 is the noteworthy meeting. What was going on then? I do not want to give all of the credit to Dell Hymes, but this can be seen as a very Hymes-inflected meeting. He was AFS president and he gave his presidential address at this meeting, which was held in his beloved home town of Portland and in the state where his studies among Native American peoples were centered. His address took account of these matters and emphasized the study of Native American verbal art of the region. Adding to the synergy was the fact that Barre Toelken, the other senior folklorist of that era focused (in large part, but not completely) on Native North American studies, was central to the organization of this meeting.

In addition to Hymes’ lecture and his influence on the meeting, there are some other distinctive features of the 1974 gathering. It included individuals and events that were not typical of AFS gatherings. Hymes chaired a session on “The Use of Folklore in the Education of Indian Students.” Panel discussions are not included in my meeting data unless each participant was given a title-like discussion topic. That is not the case for this session (thus it is not counted in the first table below), but the event is noteworthy and needs to be surfaced. Participating in the event were Barre Toelken, Jarrold Ramsey, Larry George, Deni Leonard, Bruce Rigsby, Rayna Green, and Alfonso Ortiz. On this panel, businessman Deni Leonard is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservations of Oregon and anthropologist Alfonso Ortiz was a member of the Indigenous nation of Northern (present-day) New Mexico now known as Ohkay Owingeh. I believe the Larry George participating was a Yakama Nation artist. I mention the panel for the obvious reason that it platformed these Native (and non-Native) people to explore a significant social issue of relevance to the field and to communities.

The 1974 meeting also included a panel related to the federally recognized Nez Perce Tribe (of present-day North Central Idaho) and among those presenting Native studies oriented papers was Richard Dauenhauer, who devoted his life to work on Tlingit language revitalization, history, and literature. Not Tlingit by birth, he was married to Tlingit poet and scholar Nora Marks Dauenhauer and clearly, over his lifetime, became extraordinarily involved in Tlingit national life.

The other meeting that will stick out when scanning the table is 1976. Participation on the program for that meeting in Philadelphia was very large. I do not have a fully developed account for this, but I note that this was the bicentennial year for the US and it is generally understood within the field that that year was one of special intensity for this reason, with a huge amount of disciplinary activity. In addition to being held in a city relevant to the bicentennial theme, it was a meeting held in a folklorist-dense region in a folklorist-dense city. The meeting was held in coordination with the Society for Ethnomusicology, but the impact of that is not particularly evident from the AFS meeting program. The meeting was not particularly strong on Native American studies work, but like most meetings in the 1970s, it had a dedicated panel gathering together work in this area, with a few more papers appearing elsewhere on the program.

Films (later also videos) were a prominent part of the meetings during the 1970s and 1971 is of special relevance to this project in this aspect. In that year, two films on Navajo subjects appeared on the program. Both were by Navajo film makers. I cannot tell if they were in attendance (This source suggests that this is unlikely). The films were A Navajo Weaver by Susie Bennally and Intrepid Shadows by Alfred Chah. The context for these films is pretty well known and the connection is obvious on the program, as Sol Worth was present and listed as a discussant. These two films belong to a group of films arising from the visual anthropology project reported in the book Through Navajo Eyes and various articles by Worth and John Adair.

In general, the pattern for the 1970s was for there to be one, sometimes two, omnibus panels of 4-5 talks under a heading such as American Indian Folklore (later becoming Native American Folklore). A few of the scholars participating in such panels are widely known (in addition to Toelken, I highlight Claire Farrer and Margaret Brady), but most are not or, if they are well-known, it is for other work on non-Native topics. In this period, we also see a new dynamic emerge in which broad-focus, community-based public folklorists can be seen working across a diverse communities in their home regions and, along the way, making connections and gaining understandings of Native American traditional and expressive culture in a way that is not superficial but that is also not the same being solely focused. A clear example of this during the 1970s is James Griffith’s growing connection to Arizona Native communities. (ex: 1976).

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
19709599%
19719166%
197212875%
197312465%
19741311711%
197519563%
197631993%
197719042%
197819463%
197929472%
Total1761774%
Presentations on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society During the 1970s.

The pages of the JAF contain one special story alongside more evidence of the general trend. In Toelken’s first issue as editor (#343 for 1974), he published a paper titled “Coyote Tales: A Paiute Commentary” by Judy Trejo. Ms Trejo was then a student at the College of Idaho and she would go on to become noted for her recordings of, and her performances of, Paiute ancestral music and for service as a teacher among her people. I recommend her article to you. By way of context, Toelken wrote:

This paper inaugurates a new policy of encouraging the bearers of tradition to add their own critical comments to the ongoing study of folklore. Especially to the members of those ethnic minority groups who have been scrutinized and dissected exoterically do we extend a standing invitation to provide our profession with their perspectives.

An LA Times obituary for Ms. Trejo reports that she was enrolled in the Walker River Paiute Tribe but it may be that she was enrolled at the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe. The near complete and very regrettable absence of Native American people from the twentieth century work of the society and field make episodes such as this one particularly instructive. Toelken’s intervention at the level of the journal should be studied more and considered in light of present work aimed at diversifying both the society and the journal, a theme to which I hope to return at the end of this series.

At 5% for the 1970s, the rough count for the decade roughly matches that for the 1960s. For the time being then, the decline for the journal has plateaued while, for the meetings, the larger population of attendees (and thus the size of the active field) seems to have contributed to a modest increase (2% to 4%) in presentations related to Native North American studies. The table for the JAF follows.

YearPublished Papers and Notes on Non-Native American TopicsPublished Papers and Notes on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
19704812%
19713937%
19723613%
19734700%
19743613%
19753538%
19762428%
197724311%
19782527%
19792727%
Total341185%
JAF Publications on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics During the 1970s.

Caveats–Keep in mind that the scratch paper counting that I am doing is imperfect–more imperfect than it would be in a formal inquiry based on a rigorous approach to coding. I am doing this fast and questions can arise that I not attending to except in on the fly deciding. The whole effort would need to be redone on the basis of experience to reduce this aspect. Here are a couple of examples to stand as a warning. During the 1970s, the AFS annual meetings programs gained abstracts. These can help clarify the nature of an ambiguous title or to determine if a scholar known for work in Native American studies was, in a particular instance, actually speaking about this topic. An example of ambiguity can be found in 1970, where Roger Welch spoke at the annual meeting about Omaha foodways. Given his career, this could equally have been a discussion of the foodways found in the city of Omaha or among the people of the federally recognized Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and Iowa. I counted this talk in the “Native Studies” column, but deeper research could prove this to have been the wrong choice. It is an example. Were I to start over again, I would categorically exclude obituaries from consideration, but I decided early on to include them in the Native studies column if the scholar being remembered was fully or primarily focused in Native North American/First Nations studies. My thinking then was that a person working in this field would likely be as interested to read such an item as one by the scholar being remembered. Obituaries by scholars not working in Native Studies or working in it only marginally (as with minor work by European tales scholars on Native American borrowings of European tales) were included in the non-Native group. Colleagues following behind me would surely take a somewhat different approach and get somewhat different numbers. I think that the trends would remain the same.

Native American and First Nations Studies in the Work of the American Folklore Society During the 1910s

Here we go again, this time looking at the 1910s. This post is the eighth in a series considering the absence and presence of Native North American and First Nations studies work (and individuals) within the life of the American Folklore Society (AFS). For a summary of the previous posts, check out the opening passages in the seventh post. As with that post, I will be combining a survey of the annual meetings for the 1910s with a review of articles and notes published in the Journal of American Folklore (JAF) for the same decade. For the present-day United States, the AFS is the main organization for the discipline of folklore studies.

As in other early decades, knowledge of what happened at the annual meetings of the AFS, including the titles and speakers for presentations given, is derived from annual reports of the society published in JAF. These can be consulted in JAF today and they have also been made available in an open access way by the AFS in IUScholarWorks. While the AFS annual reports do not seem strikingly different between the two decades, comparison of meeting presentations of the 1910s and the 1920s reveals a key pattern. In the 1910s, presentations on non-Native topics (N=45) outnumbered presentations on Native North American studies topics (N=27), as is shown in the table below (compare with the first table in the preceding post). For the 1920s, this pattern was reversed, with fewer papers on non-Native North American topics (N=28) than for Native North American studies topics (N=40).

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
19108111%
19116333%
1912500%
19136650%
19144343%
19154233%
19163563%
19175550%
1918000%
19194233%
Totals452738%
Presentations on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society During the 1910s

When considering this, keep in mind that the nature of the presentations on non-Native North American topics is heterogeneous. That group usually includes literary folklorists working on topics such as ballads and tales from European settler, Black, “Hispanic” (Latinx), etc. communities in the US and the Americas, but also anthropological folklore studies works related to peoples outside the settler states of the United States and Canada. Finally, this grouping sometimes includes work of a theoretical or comparative character that by scholars who were otherwise deeply involved in Native North American studies.

We still need to get back to 1888, but from the vantage point of the meetings of the 1910s, it would appear that Native American studies work within folklore studies, as represented by meeting participation, is working towards a peak that is still to come in the 1920s. (As discussed in the earlier post on the meetings of the 1930s, that decade presents a muddled picture, but it seems clear that the 1920s were the high water mark for Native North American studies work within the society’s meetings as distinct undertakings. In the 1910s, like the 1920s, but not like the muddled 1930s, there was generally a distinct AFS meeting program, even though the society was meeting in partnership with the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and other organizations. This fact helps this inquiry greatly.

Unlike the 1920s, there is no recorded moment of participation in the meetings of the 1910s by a Native North American/First Nations scholars. If I am mistaken about this, please alert me.

What about the view from JAF? The table below reflects my quick coding of articles and notes in JAF during the 1910s. As in later decades, the journal presents a more moderate picture than the meetings relative to balance. Things said about the journal in the 1920s and 1930s generally hold true for the 1910s. These decades fall into the long period of (first) Franz Boas’ and then (second) Ruth Benedict’s editorships. The stability of norms and practices in this period is very noteworthy. Throughout, there was a significant group of associate editors mapping onto the major interest groups within the society and published content reflected these interests and their constituencies.

For anyone who was very committed to Native North American and First Nations studies (particularly studies of verbal art/narrative), JAF would have been essential reading in the 1910s. For such a scholar, there would be people to talk to if one made it to the annual meetings, but it is clear that one could be active in the AFS via the journal and an associated state and local society “branches” and never make it to one of the anthropology-inflected national meetings (often held in association with the AAA and related organizations). An elite of literary folklorists working on non-Native American materials found their way to the meetings in order to engage with and shape the organization, but such scholars really shone in the pages of JAF, where their works constituted a majority of what was published in the 1910s. Consider folk song scholar Phillips Barry, for whom the Phillips Barry Lecture*, given each year at the AFS meetings is named. There are stretches in the 1910s where he seems to be present in every issue of JAF, sometimes more than once in the same issue.

(*Wasn’t Dom Flemons an incredible Phillips Barry presenter at this year’s [2020] meeting!)

Below the table, I offer a few more observations, but for Native North American studies in folklore, I want to record here that the 1910s saw JAF publish two papers by William Jones (Sauk). I cannot do justice to Jones’ amazing story here, but I note that the two papers from the 1910s were published posthumously after his tragic murder in the Philippines. Many others have written of the terrible, sad story of his death while doing fieldwork in Luzon. It is likely that Jones, if one were to do the archival work carefully, would turn out to be the first Native North American member of the AFS. I may discover new things when I look at the remainder of the meeting reports and journal issues, but for now, this is a reasonable proposition. (I will make a correction here if I discover something different. Having published many books and articles while still young and having earned one of the first PhDs in anthropology (the first Native American do to so), it is overwhelming to think what he might have accomplished had he not died so young (at age 38). (See his “Ojibwa Tales from the North Shore of Lake Superior in JAF #113 (1916) and his “Notes on the Fox Indians” in JAF #92 (1911).

YearPublished Papers and Notes on Non-Native American TopicsPublished Papers and Notes on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
191013941%
191112529%
191220829%
191316936%
191419932%
191519932%
191613424%
191722929%
191827516%
191922621%
Total1837329%
JAF Publications on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics at During the 1910s

While Native North American studies were not dominant in the journal, it was (like the 1920s and 1930s) an era in which Boas’ students published often in the journal on both Native North American and theoretical topics. A few dissertations were published as long articles and there were many text collections from both anthropological folklorists and literary folklorists concerned with non-Native North American peoples, particularly from the western hemisphere. Boas’ editorial system of making sure that every volume, for the most part, included materials related to English-speaking European settler, Spanish-speaking settler, French-speaking settler, Black diaspora, and Native American/First Nations (here including the Indigenous peoples of the Americas as a whole) was evident as was his efforts to balance short items with the very long ones that he also was keen to publish.

Native American and First Nations Studies in the Work of the American Folklore Society During the 1920s

This is a seventh post in a series on the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations studies within the life of the American Folklore Society (AFS). So far, the series is as follows.

First, a post considered the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations studies within the AFS conference programs of the 1950s.

Second, I moved back a to the AFS conference reports for the 1940s.

Third, I considered the distribution of interest and work among the original group of AFS Fellows at the moment of the Fellows beginning in 1960, a moment that represented a kind of capstone for the state of things at the end of the 1950s.

Fourth, I moved forward to consider the annual meetings of the 1960s.

Fifth, I went back and assessed Native American and First Nations Studies at the American Folklore Society Meetings During the 1930s

Sixth, I dug deeper for the 1930s, looking at the content of the Journal of American Folklore (JAF) for that decade.

Here in a combined post, I look at Annual Meetings and the JAF for the 1920s.

While the published AFS Annual Reports for the 1920s have the same format and style as those crated and published in the 1930s, for the 1920s there is, for each year, an accounting of the papers presented at the Society’s annual meeting. There are indicators that the AFS was then meeting with the AAA and other organizations, but the picture in the 1920s is one of autonomy and in each instance there are is a small but clear and substantive group of papers presented at the annual meeting. The data on these presentations is given below. For the tracking of presentations relative to Native North American and First Nations topics, 1924 will look a anomalous, especially in the context of the decade. In addition to two papers presented on other topics, there was that year a round table event on European tales taken up by Native North American peoples. Below the table I touch on a highlight and assess the data.

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
19201686%
19211686%
19226225%
19232467%
192420* (Roundtable)0%
19254450%
19264969%
19272360%
19285229%
19291480%
Total284059%
Presentations on Non-Native American- and Native American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society During the 1920s

For me the highlight is seeing, in the program for the 1926 meeting held at the University of Pennsylvania, Gladys Tantaquidgeon (Mohegan). Born in 1899, she would have been 27 years old at the time of the AFS meetings. The annual reporting tells us that her presentation was “Notes on Mohegan Folklore.” Based on my knowledge of the people involved, she was the only Native North American person presenting during the 1920s. If you know me to be in error on this point, please correct me.

Before turning to the JAF in the 1920s, I can say that the picture that the 1920s presents is pretty consistent. Editorial matters are a dominant concern of the society. To achieve its publishing goals, financial and membership issues were very prominent. Franz Boas was a very active presence in the life of the society in the 1920s and his students were central to its work, but well-known literary folklorists maintain their place in the society and Stith Thompson in particular can be seen rising through the ranks throughout the 1920s. The other key leaders among the non-anthropologists included Louise Pound, Phillips Barry, Frank Doby, Aurelio Espinosa. I tend not to enumerate them, but nearly everyone in ethnology/anthropological folklore studies generally associated with Franz Boas is present among the anthropological folklorists of AFS, with Ruth Benedict, Gladys A. Reichard, and Ruth L. Bunzel consistently playing key roles. I should have mentioned this previously, but throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Elsie Clews Parsons (herself a student of Native American topics) really was the patron saint of the AFS, consistently providing major donations to advance large projects and to patch holes in the society’s finances during difficult moments.

The meetings were small but those who gathered at them and served as officers, including as councilors, were major figures in the field. As I discuss below, the picture from JAF is much larger. Here is the basic count for the 1920s.

YearPublished Papers and Notes on Non-Native American TopicsPublished Papers and Notes on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
19202214%
1921211032%
19221317%
1923151448%
19242250%
192511945%
192611842%
1927900%
192891155%
192914318%
Total1275931%
JAF Publications on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics at During the 1920s

As in the 1930s, review of the content published in the JAF during the 1920s presents a more balanced perspective on the field, both in terms of literary vis-a-vis anthropological folklore studies and in terms of Native North American and First Nations studies vis-a-vis the study of other peoples and traditions.

Key to contextualizing the JAF data is remembering, as in the 1930s, that the journal regularly published huge text collections from various peoples of the world (particularly of the Western hemisphere). While these were sometimes collections related to Native North American and First Nations peoples, there were also frequently devoted to other groups that were prominent in the concerns of the broader membership–European American settler populations in rural North America, European immigrant populations in cities, African American populations in the U.S. and elsewhere in the Americas, French Canadian groups. As in the 1930s, a there is non-trivial amounts of work published related to Africa and Asia (particularly Chinese) and a significant amount of material related to both Indigenous groups and settler populations in the Spanish-speaking Americas. (A lot of work on the Spanish-speaking Americas is present in JAF during the 1920s. Put another way, the diversity of the field is much clearer in the pages of JAF than it is in the meeting halls where AFS leaders gathered for a business meeting and a small group of papers.

[Before moving on, a comment here on the studies of the Spanish-speaking Americas. Many people contributed to this work, including even Boas himself. But the central figure is Aurelio Macedonio Espinosa, Sr. He is clearly the star figure in this corner of the field and it is evident that he was greatly respected overall. He served as AFS President in 1924 and was reelected for 1925. His role, and that of other folklorists who might be identified as Latinx today is important in its own terms, but it is also important to keep this other thread in mind as we search the annals of the society for Indigenous and Black scholars.]

As noted previously, an assessment by pages published rather than by itemized articles and notes would generate a different picture. While very large articles are devoted to all groups (and the 1920s saw a huge amount of text material published on Puerto Rico), a page approach would shift perceptions of Native American studies in the AFS. As in the 1930s, JAF as a key location for the publication of Native North American text collections. 1929, for instance, looks different on the table above than it does on the tables of contents in JAF. Among the three Native North America-related publications for that year is a huge Hopi text collection.

Noting Gladys Tantaquidgeon, above, at the 1926 meeting was a relief in the face of the absence of Indigenous scholars at the decades and decades of meetings already surveyed. As noted in an earlier post, the 1920s also feature a paper in the JAF by Ella Deloria (Yankton Dakota), her “The Sun Dance of the Oglala Sioux” published in number 166 in 1929. (She was age 40 at the time.) While both Tantaquidgeon and Deloria did research with other Indigenous peoples it is perhaps relevant to note that their 1920s AFS contributions were reflections on studies undertaken among their own peoples.

What provisional patterns stick out from the 1920s survey, here combining JAF and the annual meeting in one post? If a scholar were interested in Native American expressive culture, particularly verbal art, in the 1920s, JAF would be essential reading. If such a scholar had the means and ability to travel to the (usually Northeast US) cities where the AFS met during this decade, they would find fellow scholars with which to converse and from which to learn. But the AFS was not at all reducible to the annual meeting. The journal represented and presented a bigger and more complicated scholarly world. Separate from Native North American studies concerns, it is strange to note that the difference between the 1920s and the 2020 on this point is basically an inversion. In 1920, the JAF involved more people and a more diverse set of concerns. In 2019 and even in virtual COVID-19 reshaped 2020, the annual meetings are simply bigger and more diverse than the content of the JAF. It has been thus for a long time. JAF is great, but it is a a very partial slice of the AFS today, whereas in 1920, the annual meeting was a tiny slice of the membership and of the journal as a community.

It is painful to contemplate that the 1920s might have been more inclusive than many later decades in terms of the involvement of women scholars and also of BIPOC scholars. I am not combing through this data just for kicks, although it is good to learn more about my fields. I am trying to get a better handle on just such painful questions as this one. I have not surveyed all of the data yet. There are later decades (ex: 1970s, 1980s, etc.) to consider as well as earlier ones (ex: 1900s, 1910s, etc.) to look at. But the patterns are starting to emerge more sharply.

CFP: Limitations and Adaptations: Negotiating Aesthetics, Power, and Positionality

I am happy to share the call for papers for the 12th joint student folklore conference organized by the students at Indiana University and the Ohio State University. Save the date and get your plans together to attend in Bloomington.


Limitations and Adaptations: Negotiating Aesthetics, Power, and Positionality
Twelfth Annual IU/OSU Student Folklore Conference
February 22–23, 2019

The Indiana University Folklore Student Association, in collaboration with the Folklore Student Association at the Ohio State University, invites submissions for the twelfth annual Indiana University / Ohio State University student folklore conference to be held in Bloomington, Indiana on February 22–23, 2019. We welcome proposals from folklore, ethnomusicology, and related disciplines. Presenters are encouraged to submit proposals related to the conference theme of “Limitations and Adaptations.” Some questions to consider could include the following:

  • What limits do people face in vernacular cultural production? How are these limits formed or identified? What are the power structures behind them?
  • How do limits shape artistic production?
  • How do people use vernacular cultural production to transcend limits/barriers or to adapt to change/oppression?
  • Does adaptation create or take place in a liminal space?
  • How do people adapt to limitations cross-culturally?
  • How might researchers be limited by factors such as identity, language, and environment? What impact might these limits have on selection, collection, or transmission of research?
  • What is the role of the researcher in either adhering to or pushing back against limitations? Is your project overcoming limitations in some way?

Proposals for papers, posters, roundtables, panels, workshops, and other formats are welcome. All presenters should write a 250-word abstract of their presentations. Prearranged or collective sessions should additionally include a session title, 250-word session abstract, and list contacts for all members of the panel/roundtable, if relevant.

All submissions will be due via google forms by December 30, 2018.

Submission link: https://goo.gl/forms/AX0ngluMRtgLcZZy2

Housing form: https://goo.gl/forms/FnaiT2R7nLOnPMhV2

For additional questions, please contact us at iuosu2019@gmail.com.

225910_actual

Workshop on Ethnographic Methods in Museum Folklore and Ethnology

This post is the next in my series of reports on the trip to China that American museum colleagues and I took in December 2017. The Beijing posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) were about the time that we spent in transit to Nanning, where the core of our work on the trip would begin. This is the first post to share a bit of what the trip was about, explaining what we were up to in Guangxi.

Central to the story of our time in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region is our friend and colleague Zhang Lijun. Lijun is researcher on the staff of the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi (广西民族博物馆) and she is also a research associate of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. She is essential to the museum ethnography sub-project within the China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project that has linked the China Folklore Society and the American Folklore Society for over ten years of exchanges and joint projects. As she notes in her recent contribution to Metafolklore: Stories of Sino-US Folkloristic Cooperation | 文化对话:中美非物质文化遗产论坛. (Guangzhou: Sun Yat-sen University Press, 2017), she served as a translator for the founding discussions between AFS and CFS while a masters student at Beijing Normal University. A decade later, and with a Ph.D. from Indiana behind her, she is now helping lead a key project in this flourishing partnership. (For an overview of these broader efforts, see this essay by AFS Executive Director Tim Lloyd.)

Our work in Guangxi is the reason for the trip and Lijun was crucial to the planning and the doing of both parts of that work. As called for in our proposal to the Henry Luce Foundation and planned for in our partnership discussions with the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi, this trip (the first of four during the current phase of our work) had two parts–a training workshop at the museum in Nanning and then a period of jointly pursued fieldwork in Nandan County among the Baiku (White Trouser) Yao people. This post is about the training workshop, an event for which Lijun’s bilingual skills and bi-national scholarly background were essential ingredients.

IMG_0311

Zhang Lijun facilitating discussion during the first day of the Workshop on Ethnographic Methods in Museum Folklore and Ethnology held at the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi, Nanning. December 11, 2017. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson.

Wang Wei, the Director of the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi, is an leading scholar in paleoarchaeology with a deep history of participating in high-level international research collaborations and a strong record of publishing in international science journals. This experience has shaped his goals for the museum’s research staff. He is eager for them to also have international research experiences and opportunities to work jointly on publication as well as exhibition projects. Those goals are part of what we are up to in the current phase of cooperative research. They also motivate his providing generous support for our joint work. Those of us connected to the American museums share these aspirations.

Because the entire research and collections staff of the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi is too large to participate in the fieldwork phase of the project, the December 2017 workshop was developed as a means of broadening the professional development opportunities that the larger project offers. The workshop was held on December 11-12 and its focus was “Ethnographic Methods in Museum Folklore and Ethnology.”

During this event, American and Chinese participants, drawn from the partner museums, gave bilingual presentations on fieldwork methods as these pertain to work of museums of ethnography. About sixty attendees attended the workshop. Some were students affiliated with universities in the city of Nanning and, as initially anticipated, quite a few were members of the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi’s research and collections staff. There were also working ethnographers from various agencies in the city. A fourth group of attendees were staff members drawn from the ten local eco-museums with which the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi partners in its 1+10 eco-museum collaboration. These eco-museum representatives are members of the local minority groups that their institutions serve and they are active with impressive cultural documentation work in their home communities. The workshop sessions, which all took place at the museum, were well-attended and well-received.

The workshop program was comprised of seven presentations interspersed with questions and discussion. All were illustrated with bilingual slides and all were translated into the language (English or Mandarin) not spoken by the presenter. I presented an overview of ethnographic methods in the contexts of research design and the goals of museum work. My presentation introduced and connected the topics to be addressed by the other presentations. I was followed by Marsha MacDowell (Michigan State University Museum), whose presentation focused on interview methods. Jon Kay (Mathers Museum of World Cultures) focused on survey methods as well as on video documentation techniques. Carrie Hertz (Museum of International Folk Art) explored the uses of still photography in research, exhibitions, publication, and other museum activities. Kurt Dewhurst (Michigan State University Museum) presented on the use of existing collections in new field research and on the role that new ethnographic work can play in re-contextualizing such collections. Gong Shiyang (Anthropological Museum of Guangxi) presented on the role of eco-museums as research centers and on the partnership linking AMGX and its 10 partners in Guangxi. Fan Miao Miao (Anthropological Museum of Guangxi) presented on strategies for ethnographic research on dress and adornment practices.

At the conclusion of the workshop on December 12, research participants from the three U.S. partner museums, from the AMGX and from the Baiku Yao Eco-Museum in Nandan met to discuss the research plan for the joint fieldwork that would follow.

Here are some pictures from the first day of the workshop.

Here are some images from the second day of the workshop.

One of the temporary exhibitions on display at the museum is an exhibition produced in partnership with the Museum of Women and Children in Beijing (the museum we visited earlier in our trip). This exhibition is interesting because it deals with a classic ethnographic topic (“Brocade Made by Minority Nationalities in China”) in a kid-friendly way. Here are some pictures.

Two Euchee (Yuchi) Baskets in the Collections of the Philbrook Museum of Art

The basketry traditions of the Native South have experienced divergent histories from a common regional tradition of work basketry. Among the North Carolina Cherokee, for instance, the indigenous river cane basketry tradition was augmented with the adoption of an old European white oak splint basketry practice and a more modern vine runner basketry practice using Japanese honeysuckle. The two older traditions are focused on workbasket forms, even as these have increasingly become works of art and heritage appreciated as aesthetically compelling collectables rather than tools of labor. The vine runner basketry made in honeysuckle added graceful forms intended by their makers to be visually appreciated more than used for rough labor. The richness of Cherokee basket making, up to the present, has been facilitated through an arts and crafts market fostered by the location of the Eastern Cherokee community in a key tourism destination at the eastern gateway to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. While workbaskets were, for a time during the early 20th century, presented for sale to outsiders among the Florida Seminole, Florida Seminole basketry shifted in that century to decorative craft baskets made from coiled sweet grass. As in Cherokee, North Carolina, these baskets were crafted with non-Seminole tourist-collectors in mind.

Not all Southern Native communities reside in locales where tourism and tourist craft markets could foster (and reshape) local basketry practice. In many native communities, local baskets were used less and less for work—replaced by commercial containers—and thereby they became less and less common, as did knowledge of their construction and use. In some contemporary Native communities, a commitment to revitalize tribal cultures has more recently led to a renewal of basketry practices, not so much for external consumption but as heritage endeavors celebratory of local traditions. This dynamic is found among the Catawba (ex: “Catawba Indian basket maker revives almost-lost ancient tradition”) and among numerous groups—such as the Chickasaw—who have begun regularly organizing basketry classes (ex: “Chickasaw Nation to host basket weaving class”).

While revivals of the sort that numerous communities are pursuing can be initiated in the near or distant future, there are some communities in which basketry has quietly fallen into obsolescence. As with heritage languages, we might describe basketry in such communities as “sleeping”—especially when extant baskets are present in museums and some ethnographic documentation of basket making or use has been made. As with “sleeping languages,” sleeping basketry traditions are capable of being revitalized, especially when knowledge can be gained from basket makers among neighboring peoples sharing similar practices.

While they are an extraordinarily vital community in many other ways, sleeping describes the present state of basketry among the Euchee (Yuchi) people now residing in Tulsa, Creek, and Okmulgee Counties in (present-day) Oklahoma. (For the remainder of this note, I will just use the “Euchee” spelling.) To my knowledge, eight Euchee baskets are curated in museum collections. Then a Ph.D. student in anthropology, Frank G. Speck collected five Euchee baskets in the Sand Creek tribal town near Bristow, Indian Territory in 1904. These were purchased with funds from the American Museum of Natural History and are preserved in its collections. They can be studied in the AMNH’s online database and were discussed in Speck’s Ethnology of the Yuchi Indians, a book-length study that is now freely accessible via the HathiTrust Digital Library and the Internet Archive (see pages 31-34). [If consulting the AMNH database, see numbers 50 / 5368, 50 / 5369, 50 / 5370, 50 / 5371, and 50 / 5372]

One Euchee basket is cared for by the Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia. (I hope to report on it later.)

Of interest here are two baskets close to the present-day Euchee community, at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma. These two baskets (I believe, the only ones in Oklahoma museum collections) are significant in a number of ways that I will narrate here.

They are, to my knowledge, the most recently collected baskets from among the Euchee. Some Euchee families preserve heirloom objects from the past, but I have not been shown or told about old workbaskets in the possession of the Euchee families that I know. There is a chance that these two were among the last in Euchee hands.

They were collected by famed basketry collector Clark Field. One can learn more about Field and his collection in the volume Woven Worlds: Basketry from the Clark Field Collection edited by Lydia L. Wyckoff and published by the Philbrook Musuem of Art. Field collected these two baskets from Johnson Tiger, then living in Kellyville, Oklahoma. [Kellyville is a municipality in the territory of the Yuchi Tribal Town known as Polecat (after nearby Polecat Creek)].

Tiger indicated for Field that the first of the baskets (catalog number 1963.13.2) was made by his grandfather George Fulsom and dated to 1875. George Fulsom was age 57 at the time of the 1910 census and thus he was born around 1853. If the basket was actually crafted in 1875, this would have been when George Fulsom was about 22 years of age. Field paid Tiger $27.50 for the basket in 1962, which would be about $218 in 2016 dollars. (As noted below, it may be that this amount was the price paid for both baskets.)

IMG_5425

Euchee tray or fanner basket of river cane. Collected from Johnson Tiger in 1962 and attributed to his grandfather George Fulsom. Late 19th century. Polecat Tribal Town. Philbrook Musuem of Art #1963.13.2. Used with permission of the Philbrook Museum of Art.

This plaited basket is made of river cane, the primary material out of which baskets were historically made in the Native South, but a plant that was and is increasingly rare generally and that is particularly rare on the western edge of its range in Oklahoma. Like most of the known Euchee baskets, this example was one of two fundamental tools used in processing corn for food. (It could be used, of course, for other activities, including other food processing ones.) With a solid bottom, this kind of basket was used to both catch grain falling through a sifter (sieve) basket and for fanning grain that has been pounded (or ground) so as to separate the grain from the chaff.

As J. Marshall Gettys has noted, this basket is interesting because it is made of rivercane (the region’s old material) but it has a reinforced rim assembled in a style more common in European American basketry styles. In river cane trays or sifters in the South, a braided rim (as found in the second basket, below) would be more common (Gettys 2001:182).

The second basket was likely long used as a pair with the first one. It (catalog number 1963.13.3) is a sifter basket or sieve. Johnson Tiger told Field that Fannie Fulsom, his grandmother and the wife of George Fulsom, made this basket. As with the first basket, he dated it to 1875. According to the 1910 census, Fannie Fulsom was 45 in 1910, indicating that she was born around 1865. If this is correct and if the basket were made in 1875, then she would have been age ten at the time of its manufacture. While it is possible a ten-year-old made it, my intuition is that it was either made at a later (but still probably nineteenth century) date or by a different maker. Like all of the other Euchee baskets in museum collections, this (and the other Philbrook basket) shows extensive wear from practical use. Especially noteworthy is the way that the basket was patched with cloth strips. Because they are woven with evenly sized openings in their bases (bottoms), sifter baskets are more fragile than fully woven trays, such as the other Philbrook basket.

IMG_5454

Euchee sifter basket or sieve in river cane style but made with hardwood splints, probably hickory. Collected from Johnson Tiger in 1962 and attributed to his grandmother Fannie Fulsom. Late 19th century. Polecat Tribal Town. Philbrook Musuem of Art #1963.13.3. Used with permission of the Philbrook Museum of Art.

The Philbrook records do not preserve a purchase price for the second basket. It is possible, but unproven, that the price recorded for the first basket was a price for both baskets.

While this basket has a braided rim in the region’s aboriginal style, it is made not of river cane but of narrow splints of hardwood (probably hickory). My interpretation of this material is that it represents an Indian Territory (/Oklahoma) adaptation in a setting in which river cane was difficult to obtain. To my knowledge, it is only in Oklahoma that we find Southern river cane-based forms produced in materials other than river cane. Elsewhere in the South, newer materials were utilized in altered, adopted, or innovated forms.

Euchee basket making may continue to sleep. If it does, that should not be taken to mean that Euchee people lack appreciation for the baskets, basket making, and the basket-using of their ancestors. Elders I have known, from the 1990s to the present, have often recalled memories of how baskets such as these were used. These stories were never simply for my benefit. They are regularly shared with audiences of younger Euchee people. The tellers of such stories are eager to preserve a memory of past Euchee ways of life. The moral of such stories often center on how hard older Euchee people worked to care for their families and communities and how they possessed and use specialized cultural knowledge to sustain a rich and self-sufficient social life in the face of hardships and limited financial resources. In the late 1990s, I worked with cultural leaders from the Euchee community to organize an exhibition at Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum. For this exhibition, two of the AMNH baskets were lent and displayed. Euchee elders noted how well-worn these baskets were. This prompted not only an appreciation for their industry of their ancestors, but also laughter at the thought that the baskets unnamed Euchee owners turned a nice profit selling end-of-life, totally worn out, baskets to an earnest young scholar from the East. They also appreciated the fact that some Euchee work baskets still existed in the world and would thus be available for future generations to see and appreciate. These thoughts apply, I think, to the two baskets that Johnson Tiger sold to Clark Field in 1962.

Thank you to my friend Christina Burke, Curator of Native American and Non-Western Art at the Philbrook Museum of Art for letting me spend time with these two baskets, not once but twice. Thanks also to the Euchee elders who have shared their people’s past and present with me.

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